What It’s Like Teaching The Always-Connected Generation

How different is it today to teach the always-connected generation? We asked two teachers from a private and a public school for stories of the modern classroom.
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It would be easy to make some assumptions about today’s generation. The negative among us will point to the time they spend nose-down in their gadgets, losing their abilities to interact socially and do what we once qualified as anything resembling real work.

But doesn’t that access to all of the world’s knowledge have some good? Is it possible that kids who grow up in a world where no answer is out of reach might be smarter than us?

To find out, we asked a couple of teachers to tell us their tales of education today. The first teaches preschool at a Catholic institution, and the other is the public school district’s most recent Teacher of the Year winner.

Yes, they worry about how technology and a lack of resources affect education nowadays. But what might surprise you—or at least lift your spirits a bit—is how optimistic they are about kids today.

Teaching in a Generation with a Natural Affinity for Tech

Kathy Cobb

Preschool teacher, St. Anthony Catholic School in Fort Lauderdale

I have been teaching preschool for the past 10 years. The decade prior, I taught computer class to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. My teaching experience at St. Anthony has spanned more than 20 years and continues to challenge me physically, intellectually and spiritually.

There is a significant change in education since I was a child. Kids today are exposed to events on television, social media, and the internet that are beyond their ability to process. Open communication at home is essential, and responsible use of these resources can prepare children as they go out into the world. Kids today still need stability, love, and positive role models in their daily lives. It is the teachers and parents who must ensure responsible use of technology.

When it comes down to it, all parents want the same thing for their child. In my experience, they are open to parenting tips and feedback and are very supportive. The biggest challenge today is preparing students to be intrinsically motivated by their achievements and become problem solvers by learning from their mistakes as well as accomplishments. The more teachers and parents allow children age-appropriate independence, the more kids will feel empowered and self-confident.

Even very young children seem to have a natural affinity for iPads, cell phones, and computers. They very quickly pick up how to play games and watch videos on their parents’ devices. Often there is a role reversal, and the child becomes teacher when they are the ones demonstrating how to use apps.

We have sufficient resources available to us at St. Anthony School, at all grade levels. The ever-expanding support staff at St. Anthony School is an indicator of responding to the individual needs identified. Because of awareness, different learning styles are accommodated and appropriate teaching methods are implemented. Also, developmental issues are identified and resources made available.

The biggest challenge today is preparing students to be intrinsically motivated by their achievements and become problem solvers by learning from their mistakes as well as accomplishments.

If I had a magic wand and could fix problems schools face, what would I do? Ideally, there would be more resources on staff to support students—both the youngest and the oldest—with emotional issues.

I really want children to be excited and motivated by their own work. The awards, parent pressure, and competition are not the things that make children love learning. It thrills me personally to see their joy when they figure out a solution on their own and want to learn more. That is the most rewarding part of teaching for me.

The Balance of Ethics and Always-Connected Gadgets

Kristin Murphy

History and Pre-Law teacher, Nova Middle School in Davie

I teach the Nova Middle School pre-law program for seventh-grade students who want to participate in mock trials and are willing to handle rigor. As a lawyer teaching a law class, I try to mimic the real-world experience for the kids. As is true with the Florida Bar, I require that my students self-report any school incidences they have outside of my class.

For example, if they receive a detention from another teacher, they have to self-report, in writing, in my class. This keeps kids honest and gives them the chance to reflect on their choices. As in the real world, too many self-reports lead to disbarment. Disbarment in my class equates to not being allowed to do mock trials, which the kids really enjoy, so it is an effective punishment.

I have a large banner in the front of my classroom that reads, “Character is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” We need to teach our kids to be better people. Respect and honesty are two of the main ways we can do that. I tell students that one of the best things they can carry with them in life is good character.

Teaching students about how to live ethically isn’t as easy as it used to be considering their access to the internet. I’m a technology junkie—for holidays, I always tell my husband I want the newest electronic gadget, not jewelry.

Technology can be both good and bad in the classroom. It’s good because it allows teachers to use online games and activities to assess knowledge, and it allows students to work together on projects from home.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have as many engaging activities in the classroom. Instead, we had regular lectures. Now, when done right, schools can utilize technology to excite more kids. On the other hand, technology costs money, and that money has to come from somewhere.

More technology seems to come at the expense of tried-and-true programs like home economics, shop class, holiday celebrations, etc. This seems to be due to a lack of necessary funding. I know schools want to do more, but the funding just isn’t there, and that’s sad for our kids.

Times have changed even for parents. With online grade books, a diligent parent knows every grade the moment it is entered. Last year, I had a parent email me less than one minute after a grade was entered. Her child received an 89 percent on an assignment, and she wanted to know what he missed. Everything is instantaneous. Every parent has the opportunity to monitor their child’s progress in near real-time.

We need to teach our kids to be better people. Respect and honesty are two of the main ways we can do that. I tell students that one of the best things they can carry with them in life is good character.

That kind of access to grades is indicative of just how much things have changed for this generation, which will leave school with more tech skills than my generation did. They are taking app-building and computer literacy classes, they all know how to type, etc. On the other hand, they are leaving school with less social skills than my generation. As good as technology is, it is drawing kids into alternate realities where their only “friends” are online personas. In school, once they leave the classroom to go to lunch, for example, their phones are out, and their heads are down. Today’s generation will likely find some difficulty with interpersonal skills in the real world. With prior generations, if a kid wanted to know something, they asked a family member or a friend. Now there is less need for actual conversation because kids can simply ask Google, Siri, or Alexa.

As a lover of all things technology, I recognize that, as tempting as it is to constantly pick up the phone or newest gadget, it is crucial that we also set time aside for actual face-to-face conversation. Many kids are lacking this very important skill. Kids miss real things happening in front of them because they’re always looking at these things through the lens of their phones. They record everything, missing opportunities to really take things in.

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